Tony is all about food. His ongoing food events and special projects have been featured in the press. To learn more, you can view his gallery, read his blog, or simply contact him directly.

Archive for the ‘snack’ Category


Marlene’s White Bean Salad

Lately, I’ve been reading The Aleppo Cookbook by Marlene Matar. The book has a permanent spot in my living room. When I’m feeling nostalgic, I pick it up and read through some of the recipes. It’s a beautiful tribute to Aleppo’s legendary cuisine. The photography is simple and elegant, with a focus on the natural beauty of ingredients and the finished dishes. The cover is a wonderful close-up shot of pomegranates, which are quintessentially Aleppan. It reminds me of the day trip I took to Basouta, a Kurdish farming village outside of Aleppo. Basouta is famous for its pomegranates.

Basouta, Syria–outskirts of Aleppo (November 2010)
pomegranates in Basouta

Tucked away on page 103 of Marlene’s book, under salads and vegetable side dishes, is a simple recipe for a white bean salad. I almost missed it had it not been for the reference to red pepper paste, which makes everything taste amazing! Red pepper paste, which is made from Aleppo peppers, is another quintessential Aleppan ingredient. A couple weeks ago, after an intense workout and with no energy left to cook, I remembered Marlene’s salad. I decided to give it a try. I always have cans of cannellini beans stashed away in my pantry for situations like this. The combination of creamy cannellini beans with the spicy red pepper paste dressing and earthy cumin is sublime. Best of all, the salad comes together in less than 10 minutes and can be made the day before. In fact, it’s one of those dishes that tastes better the next day once the flavors have had a chance to marry. I know because I photographed this dish yesterday and I’m enjoying a bowl of the leftovers as I write this post.

mise en place
mise en place
simple prep: parsley, lemon juice, and garlic
simple prep: parsley, lemon juice, and garlic
lots of olive oil <3
love of olive oil
white bean salad (سلطةفاصوليابيضاء)
white bean salad (سلطة فاصوليا بيضاء)

White Bean Salad

yields approximately 6 servings

Components

  • 2 15oz cans white beans, drained and rinsed
  • 2 Tbsp red pepper paste
  • 1.5 tsp ground cumin
  • 2 tsp cumin seeds, optional
  • 1-2 garlic cloves
  • 1/4 cup chopped parsley
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice, freshly squeezed
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 tsp ground black pepper
  • salt, to taste

Putting them all together

  1. In a bowl, combine the beans with the rest of the ingredients.
  2. Mix well, taste, and adjust seasoning. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Notes: Slightly modified from The Aleppo Cookbook by Marlene Matar.

Print

bright flavors
bright flavors

Zaalouk, a Mashed Moroccan Salad

Zaalouk (زعلوك) is an incredibly delicious Moroccan salad prepared with fresh eggplants cooked with ripe tomatoes, roasted peppers, and warm spices. It’s a celebration of spring and all the delicious vegetables that are right around the corner. I can already begin to feel the rays of the sun stretching further and the days getting warmer.

When I visited Morocco in 2016, I ate zaalouk everywhere I went. It was printed on every menu at every restaurant. I was obsessed. You could eat it cold or hot, but I prefer it cold on a hot spring/summer day. It’s very light and refreshing. It’s one of those dishes that tastes better the next day. Think along the lines of picnic dip, sandwich spread, or straight up, digging in with your fork. You can’t go wrong with zaalouk.

mise en place
mise en place

Although Moroccans and Syrians speak Arabic, the dialects couldn’t be more different. Moroccan Arabic is influenced by Berber, French and Spanish. It’s so different than the Syrian dialect that it was often easier to chat with locals in English than it was to try to use Arabic. Sometimes we opted for Modern Standard Arabic (MSA), the standard Arabic reserved for the press and news broadcasts. It’s rarely spoken by locals. MSA sounds awkward in any context that isn’t the news. It’s like walking into a bakery and ordering a croissant in Shakespearean English.

In the Syrian/Levantine dialect, the root za-aa-la (زعل) means to sadden. In Modern Standard Arabic, za-aa-la means to anger. By extension, I thought zaalouk would be the word used to describe when someone saddens/angers you (3rd person). Not in Morocco. The word zaalouk comes from the term, m’zaalak, which is used to describe a mashed texture. It is an apt description for how the eggplants, tomatoes, and peppers, mash together to create an incredible burst of flavor. The only way zaalouk could be sad is if you missed out.

salt eggplants
salt eggplants
eggplants coated in olive oil
roast eggplants in 400 degree oven
roasted eggplants
roasted eggplants
fresh tomatoes
fresh tomatoes
cooked tomato puree
cooked tomato puree
everything together
everything together
zaalouk (زعلوك)
zaalouk (زعلوك)

Zaalouk

yields ~4-6 servings

Components

  • 2-3 medium eggplants/li>
  • 2 roasted red peppers, diced
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, finely minced
  • 1/4 cup chopped parsley
  • 1/4 cup chopped cilantro, optional
  • 1 tsp Aleppo pepper
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 3 Tbsp olive oil plus more for pan-frying
  • salt, to taste

Putting them all together

  1. Wash and remove the stems of the eggplants. Cut into 1/2 inch cubes.
  2. Season the eggplants with a little salt. Line a baking sheet with a layer of paper towels. Scatter the seasoned eggplants on the paper towels and cover with another layer of paper towels. Press down on the paper towels to draw out the excess moisture.
  3. Toss eggplants in olive oil. Scatter on a baking sheet and roast at 400 degrees for 20-25 minutes, or until cooked through.
  4. Cut tomatoes into 1/2 cubes. Line the bottom of a large sauté pan with olive oil. Add tomatoes and season with salt and pepper. Cook until the tomatoes are soft and have lost their shape.
  5. Add the roasted eggplants, diced peppers, cumin, Aleppo pepper, and garlic to the cooked tomatoes.
  6. Cook for another 7-10 minutes until the eggplants have broken down into a chunky paste.
  7. Mix the chopped parsley (and chopped cilantro). Serve hot, cold, or at room temperature.

Print

zaalouk bite
zaalouk bite

Aleppo’s Omelette

Growing up, weekend breakfasts meant frying aajeh in the kitchen. Aajeh is a delicious parsley-rich omelette popular across the Middle East. Unlike the classic French omelette, parsley is the star of the show; the eggs are there to hold everything together. Aajeh are fried, simple, and delicious. I love aajeh so much, I stole convinced my mom to give me her traditional aajeh pan from Aleppo. The pan has small dimples/craters that allow you to make individual aajeh fritters. As far as I’m aware, no other city in Syria (or the Middle East for that matter) prepares aajeh this way. Most recipes call for frying the aajeh as a large disk in a non-stick skillet.

Today I’m going to feature the Aleppan variation that I learned from my mom. If you want to prepare individual fritters, but your mom doesn’t have a special aajeh pan you could steal, you can make free-form fritters by carefully ladling spoonfuls of aajeh mix into a non-stick skillet lined with oil. Alternatively, the Danish/Dutch have popular pancake (aebleskiver/poffertjes, respectively) that are cooked in a similar pan. You can find them on Amazon.

mise en place
mise en place
fresh eggs
fresh eggs
whisked
whisked
aajeh fix-ins
aajeh fix-ins: featuring parsley
Mom’s aajeh pan
Mom's aajeh pan
weekend mornings
weekend mornings
aajeh عجة
aajeh عجة

Aajeh

yields ~6 servings

Components

  • 6-8 eggs
  • 1 bunch parsley, finely chopped
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, finely minced
  • 1 medium yellow onion, grated
  • 1 tsp dried mint
  • 1 tsp Aleppo pepper
  • 1/2 tsp allspice
  • olive oil, for pan-frying
  • salt, to taste

Putting them all together

  1. Grate the onions making sure to squeeze out some of the excess water.
  2. Lightly whisk the eggs until the yolks and egg whites are combined.
  3. Mix all the ingredients together.
  4. Place an aajeh pan or a non-stick skillet over medium heat.
  5. Line the bottom of the pan with a thin layer of olive oil.
  6. Once the oil barely begins to shimmer, begin ladling spoonfuls of the aajeh mix.
  7. Cook 2-4 minutes on each side (depending on how big you made your aajeh and how high your heat is. Repeat until aajeh mix is finished.
  8. Transfer the fried aajeh to a plate lined with paper towels to absorb the excess oil.

Note: The Danish/Dutch have popular pancake (aebleskiver/poffertjes, respectively) that are cooked in a similar pan. You can find them on Amazon.

Print

Sautéed shiitakes for the perfect ski weekend

I’m writing this blog post remotely, from my brother’s house in Vermont. If you follow me on Instagram, you’ll have seen the amazing snow conditions we’ve had this weekend. The night before I arrived, the ski gods delivered a snow storm that covered the mountains with about 15″ of fresh powder. It was perfect timing! All the evergreens were covered in snow. The views from the chairlifts were stunning. I spent all day Friday and Saturday skiing. My body is sore, but it’s the good kind of sore. The satisfying kind. And when your body is aching and you don’t want to move a muscle, you should have simple and delicious recipes in your back pocket. Because no amount of aching is reason not to eat well.

15″ of fresh powder
fresh powder
Vermont evergreens
Vermont evergreens
this view <3
this view
chairlift
chairlift

I grew up not liking mushrooms. Something about the texture and flavor didn’t appeal to me. It probably didn’t help that in school we learned that mushrooms are a type of fungus. I was missing out. At one point, my taste buds had a revelation and now I can’t get enough! My favorite preparation for most kinds of mushrooms is sautéed in a bit of butter, with minced garlic, fresh thyme (or in this case leftover marjoram from Melissa Clark’s Tarragon Chicken), and finished with a splash of vermouth. If you don’t have vermouth, you can substitute a dry white wine.

mise en place
mise en place

The preparation is simple. If you start off with great quality fresh mushrooms, you don’t have to do much to them. I got these beautiful shiitakes from my local farmers market in Baltimore. Shiitakes are famous for their wonderful meaty texture and an earthy and slightly smokey flavor profile. They’re great for a hearty side.

mushroom prep
mushroom prep

You don’t want to rinse fresh mushrooms under water. They’ll inevitably absorb some of that water, which will make it more difficult to achieve a nice sear on the surface. Searing mushrooms triggers the Maillard reaction, which helps draw out the rich, smokey, and earthy flavors of the shiitake mushrooms. Shiitake stems can be tough. If the mushroom is big or the stem is particularly dry, I recommend cutting it off. If the stems are small and feel tender to the touch, I generally leave them on and only cut the tip, where the mushroom was attached to the soil.

garlic & marjoram
garlic and marjoram
light brown garlic
light brown garlic

This step is important. If you look away for one second, you run the risk of burning the garlic, which is no good. You can’t recover from burnt garlic. If that happens to you, toss out the garlic, wipe the pan, and start over. As the first specks of garlic barely begin to turn golden brown, you want to add the mushrooms and toss them in the garlic butter. The mushrooms will absorb all that garlic-infused butter, which is what you want. You also want to hold off on seasoning the mushrooms at this point. Adding salt will draw out the moisture of the mushrooms, which will make it more difficult to get a nice sear on the surface.

a splash of vermouth
a splash of vermouth
sautéed shiitake mushrooms
a splash of vermouth

Sauteed Shiitake Mushrooms with Vermouth

yields ~4 appetizer servings

Components

  • 1 lb fresh shiitake mushrooms
  • 3 Tbsp unsalted butter
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 bunch fresh marjoram, chopped
  • 2-3 cloves garlic
  • 2 Tbsp vermouth
  • salt and pepper, to taste

Putting them all together

  1. With a sharp knife, remove any tough stems from the larger shiitake mushrooms. With a damp paper towel, wipe any specks of dirt from the surfaces.
  2. In a large skillet over medium low heat add butter, olive oil, and garlic.
  3. Cook the garlic until barely golden brown and add the shiitake mushrooms. Coat the mushrooms in the garlic-infused butter then allow them to sear by not stirring too frequently.
  4. Add the chopped marjoram, the vermouth, and season with salt. Stir to mix everything together and enjoy.

Print

Sweet Cheese Rolls

While I was living in Aleppo, I became the de facto ambassador to the city. I was never shy about expressing how much more interesting I thought Aleppo was than Damascus. As the capital city, Damascus always felt formal relative to Aleppo. Walking down the narrow streets of the old city in Aleppo felt like you were stepping back in time. The old buildings showed age, but also splendor. The hidden culinary gems in tucked away neighborhoods packed some of the most magnificent flavors I have ever experienced. I quickly gained a reputation among the US embassy staff and the Fulbright scholars in Damascus. Anytime anyone planed a trip to Aleppo, I was more than happy to show them around my favorite city. I knew my way though the historical sites, but most importantly, I knew where to find all the best food.

One of my last tours was in April of 2011 when my friend Tom, a fellow Fulbright scholar living in Damascus, visited Aleppo with his family. I teamed up with my cousin Zaki who lives in Aleppo and wanted to practice his English. We crammed into tiny Syrian cabs and ate our way through the city.

Anne (Tom’s mom), Tom, and Zaki
Aleppo cab ride
Aleppo’s Souks
Aleppo's Souks
Aleppan dinner at my apartment
Aleppan dinner at my apartment

One of the stops we made that evening was at a famous sweet shop called Salloura. If you’re from Aleppo, you know Salloura. Salloura evokes sweet happy memories. The original branch was founded in the 1870s by As’ad Salloura’s great-grandfather in the city of Hama about 140km south of Aleppo. There’s a wonderful series by Dalia Mortada and Lauren Bohn titled Salloura: an Epic of Sweets. It chronicles the history of Salloura and current state of Salloura in a series of articles.

The dessert that made Salloura famous in 1870 was As’ad Salloura’s great grandfather’s sweet cheese rolls, halawet al jiben (حلاوة الجبن). He sold them in the streets of Hama carrying a tray of these fluffy, chewy rolls over his head.

mise en place
mise en place

Halawet al jiben, or sweet cheese rolls, is a comforting dessert. It’s a soft, chewy dough infused with the fragrant essence of orange blossom and rose water. It gets its name from the sweet cheese (mozzarella curd) that gets melted into the chewy semolina dough and filled with creamy qashta.

If you have a Mediterranean store close by, the best cheese to use for this dessert is sweet cheese or mozzarella curds. You can also use Akkawi cheese, but you need to steep it in fresh water to remove some of the salt content. The goal is to use a cheese with little salt. If you can’t find “sweet cheese” at your local market, you can substitute regular mozzarella, too.

mozzarella curd
sweet_cheese

The dough comes together in a matter of minutes. Start heating up water and a little sugar in a large pot. Once the sugar dissolves and the mix begins to bubble, add the cheese that’s been cut into small pieces. Stir until the pieces melt together and form a stringy mass.

melted mozzarella
melted_cheese

Once the cheese has melted, mix in the semolina making sure to stir constantly using a wooden spoon. There are many grades of semolina that correspond to different thicknesses from fine to coarse. For this dessert, it’s important to use fine semolina.

fine semolina
fine semolina

This is when the dough will start to thicken up. Make sure to keep stirring to make sure the cheese completely dissolves into the semolina dough.

cheese-semolina swirl
cheese-semolina swirl

Once the dough comes together, you’ll want to add the fragrant orange blossom and rose waters right as you remove the dough from the heat. This will help preserve the intense flavor of the waters. If you’re successful, you’ll be rewarded with a soft, billowy cheese dough.

soft cheese dough
soft cheese dough

Home cooks in Syria roll the dough out on plastic bags that they’ve opened into sheets. Since the dough is hot, I recommend using silicone baking mats instead. Once you transfer the dough to the baking mats, use your fingers to carefully open the dough into a rectangular shape. Then use a rolling pin to continue rolling the dough out into a thin rectangular sheet.

thin sheet of cheese dough
thin sheet of cheese dough

With a sharp knife, cut the edges of the sheet to form a perfect rectangle.

cutting edge
cutting edge

Line the bottom edge of the halawet al jiben dough with qashta and carefully roll the dough around the qashta to form a cylinder.

stuffing with creamy qashta
stuffing with creamy qashta

Cut the cylinder and continue filling rows of qashta until you run out of dough. Cut the cylinders into individual portions. At this point, the halawet al jiben can be plated and tightly covered with plastic wrap until you’re ready to serve. Once your guests arrive, you’ll want to top each piece with crushed pistachios.

pistachios (فستقحلبي)
pistachios (فستق حلبي)

If you recall from the qashta post, the cream filling isn’t sweetened. Serve the plated halawet al jiben with a side of ‘atar or simple syrup so that each person can choose how sweet they would like their dessert.

orange blossom infused simple syrup
orange blossom infused simple syrup
halawet al jiben (حلاوةالجبن)
halawet al jiben (حلاوة الجبن)

Halawet Al Jiben

yields ~24 pieces

Components

  • 1 cup fine semolina
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 2/3 cups water
  • 500g mozzarella curd, cut into small pieces*
  • 2 tsp orange blossom water
  • 2 tsp rose water
  • 4 cups qashta

‘Atar (Simple Syrup)

  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 Tbsp orange blossom water
  • 1/2 tsp fresh lemon juice

Putting them all together

  1. In a small saucepan over medium heat, prepare the ‘atar (simple syrup) by mixing the sugar and water together.
  2. Simmer for ~5-7 minutes until the mix begins to thicken.
  3. Add the orange blossom water and lemon juice. Turn off heat and allow to cool. The ‘atar can be made days in advance and stored in a mason jar in the refrigerator until ready to use.
  4. In a large pot over medium heat, mix the water and sugar until the sugar dissolves and the mix begins to bubble.
  5. Lower heat to medium low and add the cheese. Stir until the cheese is dissolved.
  6. Slowly pour the semolina while constantly stirring with a wooden spoon. Continue stirring vigorously until the mix becomes a dough. It’s ok for some of the dough to stick to the sides of the pan.
  7. Turn off the heat and stir in the orange blossom and rose waters.
  8. Line a counter with silicone baking mats. Move the hot dough to the baking mats and form it into a rectangle shape with your hands (making sure not to burn your fingers). Use a rolling pin to roll it out to a thin sheet (~1/16 inch).
  9. Using a spoon, run a line of qashta down the long edge of the dough.
  10. Roll the dough over the qashta to form a cylinder. Use a knife to slice down the edge and repeat until there’s no more dough left.
  11. Slice the cylinders into individual pieces. Sprinkle with crushed pistachios and serve on a large tray with the ‘atar or simple syrup on the side.

Note: This recipe makes more ‘atar (simple syrup) than needed. No need to use all of it. Allow guests to make their serving as sweet as they’d like.

Print

gushing qastha
gashing qashta